The COVID-19 pandemic not only worsened the education situation nationwide, but also revealed how deep the technology divide is across the nation, according to Kimberly Flores, public relations manager for education non-profit Waterford.org, which is geared to help prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten.
One of the first steps in addressing the broadband disparity that exists in the state was taken earlier in January when Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced a major undertaking to improve internet service in southern Ohio.
Through a JobsOhio inclusion grant, Southern Ohio Communication Services Inc., in collaboration with JobsOhio, Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE) and Pike County Economic & Community Development, planned to invest $3.8 million to provide high-speed Internet service over 64 miles to 1,300 residential and business customers in southern Ohio.
The technology divide was really evident to Megan Riddlebarger, executive director of the Corporation for Appalachian Development, who told The Times-Gazette it is a two-fold dilemma.
“It’s bad everywhere because we have two problems,” she said. “One is accessibility, which is more deeply felt in the rural areas, and that’s really true throughout our Appalachian region in terms of access.”
The other situation is the statewide problem of affordability, and even in the metropolitan areas where broadband is everywhere, she said some people lack the ability to pay for available internet service.
She said that the pandemic exposed how deep the technology divide was across the nation, but credited the Waterford Upstart Summer Learning Path with providing the tools families needed to keep their children learning from home, even in the most rural parts of Ohio.
Gov. Mike DeWine hopes to remedy the problem of getting students back into their classrooms as the second phase of the coronavirus vaccination program progresses, with employees of K-12 schools that wish to remain or return to in-person or hybrid models scheduled for inoculation the week of Feb. 1.
Flores said that pre-K enrollment numbers are down across the country, with parents choosing to keep their preschool aged children at home due to concerns about COVID-19.
“The good news is low-income families in Ohio now have an at-home option that costs nothing and is a proven way to get their children ready for kindergarten,” she said. “Not only does the Waterford Upstart program cost nothing, families who qualify will also receive a computer and internet at no cost.”
Registration for Waterford Upstart is now open for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) eligible 4-year-olds in Ohio.
“The best part of the program is that it works,” she said. “The average Waterford Upstart graduate enters kindergarten reading at a nearly a first-grade reading level.”
To ensure Ohio’s preschool-aged children are ready for school on day one, she said the state has partnered with the early education nonprofit to bring the Waterford Upstart program into the homes of low-income families.
Claudia Miner, executive director of Waterford Upstart, said that when a child begins school behind their peers, it can be difficult to catch up.
“Thankfully, help is on the way for Ohio families who are doing their best, but struggling during this stressful time,” she said. “With the Waterford Upstart program, parents and caregivers will get the tools and support they need to help their child walk into class on their first day of school confident and ready to learn.”
TANF eligible Ohio families with 4-year-olds can register now for the Waterford Upstart program, which she said is an in-home, early education program that gives parents the tools they need to become their child’s first and most influential teacher.
The program provides positive parent-child interactions while delivering personalized, online instruction 15 minutes a day, five days a week, with support for parents through a personal coach and tips to continue engaging their children when not on the computer.
Last summer, Flores said 580 Ohio children across 54 counties were given the opportunity to prepare for kindergarten at home using Waterford Upstart, reportedly with impressive results.
“The average program graduate entered kindergarten at a “kindergarten intermediate” level, which is where most children score mid-point during their kindergarten year,” she said.
Independent research showed the average Waterford Upstart graduate entered kindergarten reading at nearly a first-grade level and maintained those gains through the fourth grade.
Registration for the Waterford Upstart program is now open and TANF eligible families can register their 4-year-olds for this at-home program by calling 1-888-982-9898, or going to WaterfordUpstart.org.
Currently, the organization serves over 300,000 children across 43 states every year.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.